17 May 2010

A day off on May 17th, guess why?

May 17th is the National Day of Norway and the day is referred to simply as syttende mai, meaning May Seventeenth. In the small municipality Eidsvoll, there the meeting of Norwegian patriots to draft and sign the Constitution of Norway on 17 May 1814. This constitution declared Norway to be an independent nation. This fact caused the wide celebration spontaneously among students and others from early on. However, Norway was at that time under Swedish rule and for some years Karl Johan, king of Sweden, was reluctant to allow the celebrations. After the Battle of the Square in 1829, an incident that resulted in such a commotion that Karl had to allow it. Indeed, Norway became independent nation in 1905.

A noteworthy aspect of the Norwegian Constitution Day is its very non-military nature. All over Norway, children’s parades with an abundance of flags and shouting “hip hip, hurray, hurray, hurray!” During the parade a marching band play and children sing lyrics about the celebration of the National Day, blowing whistles and shaking rattles. The parade concludes with the stationary singing of the national anthem “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” (in English “Yes, we love this country”) written by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. This year I was an observer of the parade in Oslo and that was the longest parade I’ve ever seen. Parade was led by marching bands and children from schools and local choirs and music bands. In addition to flags, people typically wear red, white and blue ribbons. Although a long-standing tradition, it has lately become more popular for men, women, and children to wear traditional outfits, called bunad. This outfit is itching, makes people to look fat and is terribly expensive (approximately NOK 20 000). The parade took place in the morning throughout Karl Johan’s Gate and finished just in front of the Royal Palace, where king Harald V and his wife were waving to crowds.

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